I still remember the day when I first learned about bad barbecue sandwiches. Not being a native-born Texan, I was introduced to this state’s barbecue tradition after moving here and having the touristy stuff. Then my family moved on to following the Texas Monthly lists. Finally, one day, I was driving back from Houston to Dallas when I got hungry at an inconvenient point halfway between the two cities: Centerville. The exit signage promised multiple barbecue options. I walked into one called Country Cousins and ordered a chopped beef sandwich.
With this sandwich, my education in the sadder side of barbecue began. The beef was torn into flavorless ribbons and then doused in sweet sauce. The sandwich was so saucy that it could have been shredded chicken or tofu for all the flavor that resulted. The bun was straight out of a grocery bag. And, well, that was it. Just sad meat and sad sauce on a sad bun. I remember thinking something like, “I stopped for this?” Or maybe, “There’s a restaurant for this?”
Since then, barbecue sandwiches have always sent shivers of fear down my spine. There are good ones in Dallas—like the Jabo at Smokey Joe’s BBQ, topped with jalapeños and beans; the sliced brisket sandwich at Katy Trail Station; or Cattleack’s monster three-meat Toddfather—but every time I order one, I’m scared it’s going to just be some scraggly meat on a kitchen-sponge-looking piece of bread. It’s time to get over that phobia.
It’s time to meet the Governor.
No, not the guy down in Austin. The Governor sandwich at OAK’D BBQ, with locations on Greenville Avenue and in Addison. This is a commanding tray of food. The sandwich—which I measured—is five and a half inches tall. That’s about the distance from the tip of my chin to the top of my eyebrows. “Open wide” doesn’t begin to solve the quandary of how to eat this monster.
It is assembled in front of you, as you watch. An OAK’D employee reaches into a warming cabinet for an enormous metal bowl filled with pre-chopped brisket. Since the bowl is about the size of an Olive Garden family-style salad, I assumed he’d add a little bit of brisket and then put it back. Nope. Three scoops, enough that the bottom bun disappeared in the cascade of meat.
Next step: bacon. Whether or not the Governor needs more meat is a matter of scholarly debate, but the bacon is here for texture, for its crispiness. So is the next layer: onion rings. Next come sauteed chile peppers—I highly recommend adding pickled jalapeños anyway when asked, to increase their numbers—and, finally, a squirt of a spicy “creole aioli.”
The result is a sandwich that only barely clings to the outer edges of the definition of “sandwich.” In that way, it loosely resembles the Jasper at Garland institution Meshack’s Bar-B-Que, which is so huge that it requires two buns placed next to each other.
After only two or three bites into the Governor, I moved on to fork and knife. The brisket pairs beautifully with the peppers and spicy sauce; I also added some of OAK’D’s “Carolina” sauce for added vinegary zing. The onion rings are lighter and airier than usual—good news in the context of a huge pile of smoked meat. Aside from the sheer size, a lot of thought went into making this sandwich’s elements balance with each other. The exception is the brioche bun. I always get a little sad when burgers or brisket are served on brioche, a richer, fattier style of bread that really isn’t necessary in this context and that immediately collapses under the weight of all this brisket. (As Saint Anthony Bourdain once wrote: “A proper hamburger bun should retain its structural integrity, playing its role as delivery vehicle for the meat patty until the last bite. The brioche bun, woefully unsuitable for this role, crumbles. God is against the brioche bun.” Amen.)
Bun rant over. This is a titanic sandwich. It has helped cure me of my lingering traumas and it shows the way toward a future with more onion rings inside other foods. The only qualm you’re likely to be left with after you eat The Governor is your sudden need for a long, restful nap.